Imagine a campus of 600 000 m2 where you can find 11 000 students and 600 teachers working in various specialities in architecture, art, science, engineering, law, economics or medicine. All these areas, located in dedicated “block”, have in common a place where they can meet apart from restaurants and sports : the Fablab UNAL. In this space, around 50 students come every month to find a place of freedom, development and meeting. Contrary to other laboratories and courses, they appreciate the relation of equality they have with the team and the possibility to use the machine with the only requirement of being trained first. They also find in this space an opportunity to create real and meaningful projects while learning operational and practical skills with the team but also with the other students who have complementary expertises. Nowadays, students stand for 80% of the users community, mainly come from architecture (40%) or engineering (50%). The other 20% are teachers who look for a place to make personal projects and content for their course. It’s difficult for the general public to get an access to the place.
To attract students in the fablab, Juan and Daniel bet on the communication based on real and useful examples of what can be done with digital fabrication. For instance, they made designed furnitures with CNC for the library or they also built plastic recycling machines inspired from “Precious plastic” spread over the campus. Curious students usually come to the place and often return to attend a workshop (to build a guitar, …) or a certified course. Indeed, digital fabrication course are offered as on option within the University curriculum to learn to students the basis required to make their ideas come true with the team support. If this course is becoming more popular with the word-of-mouth, the Fabacademy courses didn’t meet the same success. It suffer from the lack of academic recognition. As a consequence, the team is working with the university board to integrate the digital fabrication into the curriculum with each expertise line or with a post graduated program where students could be certified from the University and from Fab academy.
To grow and boost the Fablab impact, the team regularly suggest investigation proposals to the University call of grants where they offer to work on an innovative project with a team of students found with specific communication inside the campus or among their community. For instance, they received grant to build in one year projects such as pavilion for the university, plastic recycler, pollinator or hearing aid in 3D printing. They also organized a Fab day every month opened to the general public to create a product while learning technical skills or workshops for kids and students to make guitars or Halloween masks. They also built alliances with the others laboratories of the campus where they find complementary machines (metal, clay, …) and with the entrepreneurs department to help them prototype their ideas (retractable bicycles, conditioned air, …). Despite the administrative constraints inherent to a University, the team succeeds by keeping his philosophy : less words, more tangible proofs.